Kenya: Social Watch heads another fight against impunity

James Maina Mugo, a local member
of Social Watch, sent this letter to
the Kenyan authorities

Kenyan police did not pay due attention to the disappearance on March 31 of Agnes Wanjiru-Wanjiku, a 21-years old woman from a hotel in the town of Nanyuki. Her body was found on June 5 by a cleaner in a septic tank behind the hotel. Despite the pressure by relatives and civil society organizations headed by Social Watch, the authorities are responding very slowly to the growing clamor from the grassroots that accuse British soldiers and fiercely criticize military cooperation agreements between Nairobi and London.

Ms Wanjiru, a sex worker, was seen alive for the last time in the bar of the Lion’s Court hotel in Nanyuki in the company of two British soldiers who had been there as part of their pre-deployment training for Afghanistan. Since her disappearance, her family has alleged that the two unnamed soldiers murdered her.

A letter to the Kenyan Director of Public Prosecutions and to the Commisioner of Police sent by James Maina Mugo, a local member of Social Watch, details what is said to have happened the night Ms Wanjiru went missing: “A night guard witnessed a fierce fight in the room Wanjiru and the British soldier were occupying. We are pleading with you [the Police and the public prosecutors] to monitor the CCTV photo print-outs to ascertain what happened.”

“Nanyuki Police is accused of taking a casual stance in the matter. The [Nanyuki] police station is also accused of not [being] willing to pursue British Army personnel who act with impudence,” warned James Maina Mugo.

“The family has been left with a baby girl aged six months,” he added.

Speaking to reporters in Nanyuki, Ms Wanjiru’s sister Rose said: “[Agnes’ friends] told me they had gone to Lion Court and Agnes was with johnnies [British soldiers] and the friends waited for her to come back but she never did.”

After the intervention of Social Watch, the Director of Public Prosecution has ordered the Criminal Investigations Department to forward a police file on the murder of Ms Wanjiru.

“There is laxity on the part of the police to conclusively investigate the case and bring the culprits to book despite willingness by witnesses to come forth and testify. […] I have been directed by the Director of Public Prosecutions to urgently call for the duplicate police file together with a progress report on the case,” reads the letter dated July 13 and signed by Mary Wang’ele, on behalf of the main national prosecutor.

The British Ministry of Defence has been aware of the allegations since Ms Wanjiru’s body was found. “This is an ongoing Kenyan investigation. We understand that individuals who were in the local area, potentially including some military personnel, may be called on as witnesses in the case. We stand by to offer any assistance and co-operation that is required. As this is an ongoing Kenyan investigation, it would be inappropriate for the Ministry of Defence to comment further,” said a spokeperson of the British ministry in a statement to Sky News.


“The case remains open”

Joshua Lutukai, a police chief in Nanyuki, has told Sky News that detectives investigate the allegations. “The case file remains open” and “has been passed to a higher authority because of the serious allegations,” Lutukai said.

There has been frustration in Nanyuki at an apparent lack of impetus in the investigation. Police in Kenya began a murder investigation but it is understood the alleged killers have left Nanyuki to be deployed in Afghanistan.

Florah Nyaguthii and Susan Nyambura said they met Wanjiru at the hotel the night she went missing, accompanied by two white men, whom they alleged to be British Army soldiers. “We still believe that the hotel has records indicating who these soldiers were and can arrest them,” said Benedict Kimotho, uncle of Ms Wanjiru.

But no individuals have been charged by the authorities in the East African country and no allegations have been officially levied.

Thousands of British soldiers pass through the town of Nanyuki every year as part of their pre-deployment training for Afghanistan. Most visits pass without incident, although locals often complain of soldiers’ behaviour and attitude towards prostitutes who are common in the town.

In April, 200 soldiers were involved in a bar brawl near the Lion’s Court hotel. The bar was destroyed and some of the soldiers were airlifted to Nairobi.

The British Army keeps a base in the Rift Valley town for soldiers carrying out training prior to their deployment in Afghanistan. The area offers unique jungle and desert training spots and is one of the only places where live rounds are used in training exercises.


Relationships between Kenyan people and British soldiers from bad to worse

The recent killing of Ms Wanjiru is one among many similar incidences that have strained the relationship between the British military presence in the country and the local communities.

Several years ago, a Kenyan woman was killed in Mombasa, the main national port along the Indian Ocean coast, by a member of US military. Many similar cases have been recorded since the stationing of British soldiers in Kenya.

There is a Memorandum of Understanding between Kenya and Britain on military training in the country. The agreement allows a section of the British army to train some areas, with clear understanding that the visiting forces must respect Kenyan laws. This agreement has been the subject of several violations in the past, with the Kenyan government nearly appearing to be impotent when it comes to taking action when such violations occur.

Communities that have been affected by such acts of violence have staged many protests against the Kenyan government for not being ready to either carry out a proper investigation or prosecute when culpability has been established. This has made the relationship between the Kenyan host communities and the British army to go from bad to worse.

Pressure is mounting at the Kenyan parliament over what is being increasingly perceived as reluctance on the part of the authority to protect its citizens from foreign soldiers stationed in the county. 

On many occasions, the crimes allegedly committed by foreign soldiers are detected when the perpetrators have been relocated to wherever they are supposed to be fighting: either in Afghanistan, Iraq or anywhere else in the Middle East. This means that by the time investigations are initiated, the culprits will be out of reach by the Kenyan jurisdiction.

Like in the case in which a British soldier shot and killed a young Kenyan, Tilam Leresh, at Lolkanjau in Samburu District, the ministry of defense which had initiated investigation has had to refer the case to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Commissioner of Police.

In a heated debate in the Kenyan Parliament, the legislator that represents the area complained bitterly that the killing was done outside the gazetted military training area. The same Member of Parliament cited another case in which a twelve year-old boy was knocked down by a British army truck which, he said, never stopped. Many Kenyans ask themselves why the government allows the British forces to kill civilian people with impunity.

Kenya was a British colony until 1963.

UK Soldiers Linked With Death Of ‘Prostitute’ (Sky News):
The County Voice (Kenya):
Probe Intensifies Into Kenya Prostitute Death (Sky News):
Irish Independent:
The Guardian:
Daily Mail: